How to Disarm the Inequality Alarmists

The other day I was on Kerry Lutz’s radio show discussing economic inequality and he asked me how to put the inequality alarmists on the defensive. Here was my quick take on that question.


Distinguish between the non-problem of inequality and any legitimate issues. Inequality just refers to the fact that people differ in their incomes or wealth. There is absolutely nothing wrong or even suspicious about that. But the inequality alarmists invariably package the issue of inequality with genuine (or potentially genuine) problems: stagnating wages, skyrocketing health care costs, declining mobility. Those are all issues worthy of debate. But they shouldn’t be treated as problems of inequality.


Make them justify their proposed solutions. This is a lesson that I learned from John Cochrane. The inequality alarmists like to focus on whether wages are stagnating or whether wealthy Americans are buying special favors from Washington. Okay, that’s fine, we can have those debates. But even if we grant their claims about stagnation and cronyism, their solutions in no way follow. When they claim wages are stagnating, ask them: If so, how will taking more money from the most productive Americans help that? When they claim that cronyism is rampant, ask them: How does that justify giving even more power to the government? Their whole agenda is to loot, shackle, and silence the most successful Americans, and all of their arguments need to be seen in that context.


Reject the premise that successful Americans don’t count. The inequality alarmists treat the lives of wealthy Americans as less important than everyone else. But what we should be concerned with is not “the poor” or “the middle class” or “the 90 percent,” but the individual. And that means each individual. Each individual has the right to make his own life as happy and successful as possible, and the fact that some people achieve far more than others does not make it okay to treat them as resources to be exploited by those who have achieved less.